Wine Country, San Francisco
The Napa Valley is a very popular destination with locals and out of towners alike. It's an easy few hours from San Francisco. There are many tour companies offering day trips from San Francisco and many visitors usually only spend a day hoping from winery to winery and rarely see more of the area. I'd definitely recommend renting a car, driving out to Napa and spending at least a night to get a better feel of Napa.
I love Napa and whenever I visit San Fancisco make it a point to visit to indulge my love of the sweet life, that includes a few hours at my favorite Spa, sampling some excellent wines at a fantastic winery and indulging my love of food at a wonderful restaurant.
Although we didn't have that much time to spend in San Francisco, being so close to the famous Sonoma and Napa Valleys, we couldn't resist the temptation to book a wine tour. After doing some research online, we decided to go with Wine Country Tour Shuttle. They picked us up at the Ferry Building at 8:30 am - we got there a bit ahead of time, and our guide Chris was already there waiting for us. As we drove through San Francisco, he gave us some very interesting information about the city as well as a few "local's tips" - we were off to a good start! The drive across the Golden Gate Bridge early in the morning was fantastic, and again Chris proved to be both knowledgeable and entertaining as we made our way to Napa Valley in the very comfortable shuttle.
Our first stop was at the V. Sattui winery, where we got to taste six different wines. There was also a large deli/market where we picked up enough food for an amazing picnic. Next on the list was Domaine Chandon - this time the stop included a tour of the facilities followed by an outdoor tasting of their world-famous sparkling wine. The next winery we hit was the beautiful Andretti Winery (yes, as in Mario Andretti the race car driver) where we were invited to eat grapes right off the vines and sample four of their wines. Our last stop was at the Black Stallion winery, which turned out to be our favourite one as far as wine goes. All in all we tasted about 20 different wines so it definitely was a good thing that neither of us had to drive! Also, with hundreds of wineries located in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, it was nice to be guided to wineries that were unique yet affordable (the average price of a bottle was $20-$30). All the settings were also pretty incredible.
We took the Vallejo ferry back to San Francisco for a very enjoyable 45-min cruise on the San Francisco Bay, reaching the Ferry Building at 5:00 pm. We had such a wonderful day, I'm really glad we decided to book the tour! In total, it came down to $125 per person ($95 for the tour + $25 for all the tastings; lunch and everything else was included) and I thought it was well worth it for all the fun we had!
Many people head to the Napa Valley to sample some of the finest wines produced anywhere but it’s become overrun with tourists and the nearby Sonoma Valley offers some respite from the hordes, at least if you go during the week. You can stop in numerous vineyards and sample their wares. Then pick up some picnic supplies, a bottle or two, and find scenic spot to soak it all in. Please visit my Sonoma page for details.
Now almost all wineries in Napa Valley and more and more in Sonoma are charging a fee for tasting. Fees are pretty high as they can range anywhere from $6 to $25 per person (yes, even $25). Pretty soon it can get pretty expenssive. Pick up a visitor's guide called 'The Best of the Wine Country' from your hotel or car rental office. It will get you FREE tasting tasting to many wineries listed and discounts to many spas. It is published by a company called econcierges.com. We were handed one by our Concierge at the Westin hotel in San Francisco. We also enjoyed a nice discount at the Golden Haven Hot Springs.
Excellent opportunities for wine tasting abound in nearby Napa and Sonoma Counties where some of the best tasting is available. One way to explore the wine country is to head north over the Golden Gate Bridge and up U.S. 101 from San Francisco to the River Road exist. River Road is just beyond the City of Santa Rosa. Head west (left) on River Road and look for the winery signs that resemble road signs. Then explore the wineries as your adventure unfolds. This will lead you into the Russian River Valley where some excellent Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay are produced.
Other fantastic places for tasting in the area surround the cities of Healdsburg, Sonoma, and Napa. Some wineries offer free tastings, others charge a small fee. Usually tasting rooms are located right at the vineyards. Cities like Sonoma and Healdsburg also have tasting rooms that may feature one winery or offer tastings from selected regional wineries. Be careful not to overdo the tastings if you are unlucky enough to be driving.
Located in Rutherford, this is known as the big kahuna in wine business for Napa. Francis for Coppula bought this in mid 1990's can now it is called Rubicon Winery, on 1,700 acres. The winery changed hands a couple of times in buyouts after the founders, Niebaums sold out in 1970's
With the exception of some of the finer Malbec's from Argentina, the greatest wine in the world comes from the Napa Region about 40-50 miles Northeast of Downtown San Francisco. Because of the traffic, it can take up to 2-2 1/2 hours to get here. However, if you leave on a weekday from Downtown San Francisco after 10am, it shouldn't take you more than an hour to get here.
This is a picture of a wine vineyard somewhere in the Sonoma Region. I was in the middle of the freeway with no cars behind me and took this picture from outside the sun roof of my car.
I was frustrated with this picture because I missed about 20 other prettier photo opportunities until I took a shot of this.
It's a fun drive, the scene highway 12 which you get to by crossing the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge (which is Highway 80 East), and after you cross the bridge, you follow the signs to 80 East (Sacramento). Drive about 30-40 miles to Fairfield and exit to Highway 12 (Sonoma/Napa).
Once you are on Highway 12, it is a peaceful drive which you will find yourself on beautiful pastoral, quiet scenery and lots of vineyards.
If it's a hot day and you want to get away from the loudness of San Francisco, this drive is the panacea to your desires.
About a good one hour or longer drive from Downtown San Francisco is Sonoma, a city in the heart the Northern California Wine Region.
There are many ways to get there from San Francisco. You can take Highway 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge and follow the signs to Napa or Sonoma.
I recommend the longer more scenic drive where you take Highway 80 East (Towards Sacramento). About 30-40 miles on this drive, you will enter the city of Fairfield, follow the sign that tells you to go onto Highway 12.
Take Highway 12 and eventually, you will get to this City Hall in Sonoma, a quaint, friendly, lively town more down to earth making you feel far away from the busy San Francisco Bay Area hustle and bustle.
I took this picture yesterday night (May 23, 2005). Prior to getting here, I passed by at least 15 wineries. The country roads on highway 12 are windy and breathtaking if you love pastoral valleys engulfed by hot early Californian summer sunlight and hills that go up and down with vineyards with small Mountains looming in the background.
Up and Away Balloon ride over Sonoma Valley is the best-the owners are great guides and the champagne brunch is first class. We only had two days but made the most of it. We stayed at the Ledson Hotel in Sonoma-fabulous accommodations! Visited the Ledson vineyard, Domaine Chandon and Viansa. All were great experiences and well staffed by knowledgeable, courteous people. Beautiful countryside. A great getaway!
If you go to San Francisco and you have an extra day I highly recommend a visit to the wine country. Both Sonoma and Napa Valleys are within about an hour's drive of the city. Many vineyards offer free tours as well as free tastings. In addition to what you will learn about winemaking and wine itself, you will be treated to views of one of the most beautiful landscapes in America. Maps of the area are available at most hotels, though you could also do what we did: just get in the car and drive. We ran into some great out-of-the-way, family-owned vineyards this way.
Napa valley is just a short hour away, but has some spectacular scenery. Rent a car for the day, or take a guided tour, either way you'll be in lovley surroundings tasting some great wines. The Wineries are so beautiful and each has a different character to it. Great gift shops at each of the wineries. There is also a wine train, check out the website:
I highly recommend Napa Valley as a day trip if you have an extra day in the SF area. Napa is absolutely gorgeous in the fall. Almost looks unreal in person.
Now let's cross this RED famous bridge once more...
...and go to Sonoma Valley about 70 miles from San Francisco to find californian wineries and maybe taste some of their wines too in a place called Russian River
As there was only one day planned to tour the valley, I had to restrict to a few places.
This was a must-go as one of the best known in the World: KORBEL, visit of the museum with possibility to sample-taste all their wines (at least 10!!) and finish your tour with a cool REAL wine-tasting moment on the shady terrace - do I have to mention I was amongst *angels*?
The vineyards of Chateau De Baun are located in the Russian River Valley, a cool growing region recognized as producing some of California's finest Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and champagnes. The champagne was very good and I bought one bottle of it and a blue flute to my *blue-glass* collection.
Address: 5007 Fulton Road - P.O. Box 266 - Fulton,California 95439
This is the T-Bird car in front of the main building
A "Day Trip" to Napa Valley may not be enough as there are so many wineries. There are maps of the areas that show the wineries and it seems like there is a winery on every corner. Furthermore, the architecture of the buildings is both varied and amazing. I've made two trips out and still would love to go back. In terms of which wineries to see I hesitate to recommend any particular one (so as not seem pushing a particular winery). I would recommend NOT going to just national brands, and also would recommend going to a couple that specialize in champagne in addition to the regular wines.